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Get to know the Foreign Business Owners Association!

Nikolina Kukoč

Nikolina Kukoč


There’s an association here in Split that is very interesting because it has been founded by and its members are internationals who chose to move here and live in Split and the surrounding region.

We often highlight the stories of people who decide to call Split and Croatia their home through the Split Tech City Podcast, so we do know they exist. What we also know, because Split Tech City is not just into tech, but also entrepreneurship, is that many of those internationals started businesses in Croatia.

This is what they have in common and what was one of the reasons behind the founding of FBOA – the Foreign Business Owners Association.

To satiate our curiosity about all things FBOA, we managed to catch Sara Dyson of Expat in Croatia, who is also one of several key FBOA people, to answer a few questions we had about this association after its first year of successful activity.

When was the Foreign Business Owners Association founded?

“September 2022 unofficially – we started meeting regularly then, while officially the Association was registered in May 2023. The Foreign Business Owners Association is the “brainchild” of Geoff Bratton, while Maj Juico and I are board members of FBOA.”

What is the reason the Foreign Business Owners Association was founded?

“To create a community of entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs for knowledge sharing, support, education, mentorship, networking, philanthropy, and collective representation within the Split-Dalmatia community.”

What have been the Foreign Business Owners Association’s activities so far?

“We held a lot of events such as our monthly meetings with networking and educational presentations which take place at Smartspace. Some of the presentations we had this year included:

  • How to Create and Market a Product in Croatia presented by Mirela Rus of BreakTime Nautical Bracelets
  • How to Create the Perfect Ad presented by Kent Pepper of Brooklyn Bagel
  • What’s your priority? People, planet, or profit? presented by Michael Freer of Ensoco
  • Polite Persistence: Tales of Working with Split City and County Governments presented by John Rogošić of the Split International School
  • Unlocking the Power of AI: A Marketing Guide for Businesses presented by Mirela Petrović of myAI

We also held a lawyer Q&A with Peter Macura as well as informal social meetups.”

How many members does the Foreign Business Owners Association have at the moment and how does one become a member?

“At first we gathered more than a hundred in our WhatsApp group. Currently, the group is still free. Our idea from the beginning was to introduce a formal membership process, which will consist of an application form and an annual membership fee at some point when we get the FBOA momentum going. To our surprise, that already happened!

As of January 1, the Association offers a paid annual membership. We currently have 35 paid members in addition to the free members in our WhatsApp community.

Those who can’t commit to one year can pay 10 euros to join any of our formal meetups, which are held on the third Thursday of the month at Smartspace.

This month we also launched our first Informal Chat at the Daltonist, which will be the first Thursday of the month and is open to absolutely everyone so feel free to stop by anytime.”

What were some of the struggles the Foreign Business Owners Association’s members faced as business owners in Croatia who are also expats?

“Woah, what a loaded question! The list is endless! Finding reliable long-term employees, having to hire 3 Croatians full-time from the start of opening the business which is a requirement for non-EU citizens without the right to work.

Some of our members struggled with experiencing jealousy from competing Croatian businesses resulting in calls to the Inspectorate and fake negative TripAdvisor reviews, there’s the existence of the language barrier, delays in residence permit renewals for the business owners, delays in work permit processing for employees, etc. Or simply not knowing what is required because there is no onboarding process.

We all want to follow the rules, but to be able to do that – we have to know what they are.”

And what are (in your opinion) the benefits of being a foreign business owner in Croatia?

“There are many benefits to being a foreign business owner in Croatia. We have the benefit of knowledge and expertise from other countries. This means that we don’t do things the way they are typically done in Croatia, which can give us a competitive edge.

We often operate outside of the box.

We can see the gaps in the market because we have seen businesses that exist abroad that don’t yet exist in Croatia. There are so many opportunities – my head explodes daily from the realization that I’ll never have enough time in this life to capitalize on all of them.

Because we haven’t been dealing with the Croatian bureaucracy our whole lives, we aren’t jaded and complacent.

We question standard operating procedures more often. We don’t have the mentality of: “What’s the point? Everything’s corrupt anyways.” As a foreigner in a land that is not ours, we wake up every day with a sense of insecurity and fear that, someday, our next permit will be denied or that MUP will show up at our door and say: “Time’s up! You’ve got to go!

As a foreign business owner, that feeling of fragility is amplified. We’re fighting for our lives to stay here as well as for our businesses that we built from scratch. This makes us a lot more determined to make it work. We don’t have an inheritance of vacation rentals to fall back on.

It’s all on us. It’s scary, but it makes us very driven to succeed.”

Having founded businesses here, please share one piece of advice you would give yourself at the beginning of your business journey in Split and/or Croatia.

“Learn more about the basic operating requirements – meaning all the things you have to do every month in case an inspection by the government shows up at your door. Everyone just assumes you know all of your obligations, and that’s just not reality.

There are so many things you learn only as you go along, most often from fellow business owners.”

Considering you’ve started a business here, can you give us your opinion on Split’s business/entrepreneurial scene – its good points, as well as things to improve?

“Split has a high concentration of foreign entrepreneurs. There is a lot of experience and knowledge floating around.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the digital nomad permit has brought a lot of self-employed people. With the Foreign Business Owners Association, we hope those in this community will share their knowledge, which varies so wildly.

Secondly, entrepreneurship has been the best way to stay in Croatia long term. It’s not an easy path, but it is the way to build a life here. It’s inspired many to build businesses.

Before Geoff approached me about starting the Foreign Business Owners Association, I was desperately in need of a community exactly like this – where we could share ideas and contacts as well as have a support system to navigate the challenges of owning a business in Croatia. I’m so thrilled that something like this exists now!

My hope is that we can continue to draw in members including Croatians, because we can learn so much from them.

They have a lifetime of knowledge we don’t have. In exchange, we can also share our knowledge from operating businesses abroad.”

What does Split and/or Croatia do well when it comes to encouraging entrepreneurship and what could be improved?

“I don’t know what Split does to encourage entrepreneurship. I haven’t seen any examples myself. At the state level, Croatia does have grants to incentivize entrepreneurship, though I haven’t personally benefited from those.

I would like to see more options for those starting a business – like lower contributions (doprinosi) for the first year or eliminating the requirement to pay the founder. When you’re just starting, you have no income.

It makes no sense that you have to pay taxes right out of the gate. It makes you start your business journey in debt.

I would be negligent not to mention the requirement for non-EU entrepreneurs to hire 3 Croatians full-time if they wish to open a business.

It’s used as an immigration deterrent and it is working. The moment I tell aspiring foreign entrepreneurs about this requirement, it’s an immediate deal breaker.

I completely understand why Croatia doesn’t want foreigners opening a business just for residence without actually having a business or making a contribution. That makes sense to me. However, there has got to be a way to put mechanisms in place to validate that each business owned is a real business.

Very few businesses need 3 full-time people in addition to themselves from the very beginning.”

What are some future activities of the Foreign Business Owners Association you would like to realize?

“We plan to have more social activities in between our monthly meetups, collaborate and volunteer with other associations, implement mentorship programs to pair experienced entrepreneurs with aspiring or young entrepreneurs, and have representation to lobby on our behalf with local government.”

Are there any associations, organizations, or individuals you would like the Foreign Business Owners Association to collaborate with in the future?

“Absolutely! We’d like to collaborate with other foreign chambers like the American Chamber of Commerce, as well as other non-profits and associations that share our values.

For example, Geoff and I have both used our own businesses to fundraise for the Domine Association in the past, so I hope that we can collaborate with them through the Foreign Business Owners Association, too.”

To wrap this interview up, please share with us something about the Foreign Business Owners Association that you find interesting.

“One benefit of entrepreneurship is that nobody can tell you what to do. We all love this, but it also means that nobody is supervising and guiding us on how to be better at our jobs. We have to make an effort to continue our own education and find mentors who can guide us on what we don’t know – because we don’t know everything.

Personally, I’m super excited about the existence of the Foreign Business Owners Association because it offers a way for those of us at the top of our organizations to learn, receive mentorship, bounce ideas, and discuss problems.

The opportunity for knowledge sharing is immense and will only help us all be better at running our companies.

The more people that participate, the more knowledge we can share and the more skills we can develop.”

Connecting people for the purpose of sharing knowledge and skills to improve together is something we at Split Tech City can absolutely get behind! 😀

We’re happy Sara had the time to share with us the story of the Foreign Business Owners Association and the point of view of international entrepreneurs who surround us here in our hometown and our country.

We wish the Foreign Business Owners Association lots of success in all they do and are looking forward to possible future collaborations with them!

Photos: FBOA


About author:

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I am a musician at heart. Interested in too many things and always curious. Forever in love with Split and enchanted by people who teach me new things. When I am not creating content about Split's tech community, you will find me in singing rehearsals, somewhere in nature, in the theater, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano: "Love forbids you not to love."

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